Venture into a world that will touch your heart and soul. Nestled deep in the eastern Himalaya, unknown to much of the world, Bhutan is a realm of magnificent mountains, lush valleys, thick forests and a serene lifestyle and traditions unchanged for centuries. Buddhism is integral to the daily life and to the country’s history and many buildings, even the forts, have religious connections. Short hikes ensure you see the best of this scenically stunning Kingdom.
Arrive in Paro (2195m) – transfer to Thimphu (2350m) – afternoon sightseeing
The Druk Air flight into Paro is a befitting introduction to the spectacular beauty of the country. In clear weather, magnificent views of the world’s highest peaks give way to the lush green Paro Valley as you land. Bhutan’s first gift to you will be the cool, clean fresh air as you step out of the plane. After immigration you will be greeted by your guide and set out on the short (71km) drive to Thimphu, capital of Bhutan. Thimphu lies in a wooded valley, sprawling up a hillside on the west bank of the Thimphu River.
Your explorations start at the National Memorial Chorten with its tinkling bells and golden spines shining in the sun; built in honour of third King of Bhutan. Later visit Tashichhoe Dzong, seat of the Royal Government of Bhutan and summer residence of the central monk body and the Je Khenpo (chief abbot). After the visit take an evening stroll around Thimphu.
Hike to Tango monastery – Thimphu sightseeing
Drive (45mins) towards the northern end of the Thimphu valley to hike to Tango Monastery. From the end of the road hike for an hour to Tango Monastery situated on a spur overlooking the valley below. Tango dates back to the C13th and, according to legend is built on a holy site where Avalokatesvara self-emanated in his wrathful form, Hayagriva. Rebuilt as a university in the C16th it houses more than 150 monks who are pursuing in higher studies in meditation and Buddhist Philosophy.
After visiting Tango hike back to the road and return to Thimphu for lunch.
In the afternoon visit the Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts School (Painting School) and the Textile Museum, where the art of traditional weaving is kept alive. The exhibition and has a good collection of old, preserved textiles which are rich in colour and design. Simply Bhutan is an exhibition where visitors learn about Bhutanese traditions and can dress up in traditional clothes and be photographed in front of painted backdrops. There are also craft displays and a souvenir shop. Beautiful textiles in wool, silk and cotton, basketwork, silver jewellery, thangkas and other traditional crafts of the Kingdom are available in various handicraft emporiums.
Drive from Thimphu to Gangtey (2900m)
Leaving Thimphu, the road climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near the Dochula pass (3,050m). This pass often offers panoramic views of the eastern Himalayan range. After stopping for tea and the view, descend via a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Wangdue.
From here a gradual climb takes you into the Gangtey (Phobjika) Valley, on the flanks of the Black Mountains. (142km). Phobjikha has been described as the most beautiful valley in the Himalaya and is well known as a winter home of the Black Necked Crane (Grus Nigricollis). Bhutan is home to around six hundred of the cranes with Phobjikha one of the most popular places that the birds spend the winter. The elegant and shy birds can be observed from early November through late March.
Sightseeing and Walk to Gangtey Gompa
Gangtey Gompa is an old monastery dating back to the C16th, situated picturesquely on a hilltop overlooking the green expanse of the Phobjikha Valley. The gentle, pleasurable walk (around 2 hours) gives a good feeling for the valley. It is the most beautiful and shortest of the nature trails in Bhutan. From the small hilltop overlooking Gangtey Gompa head downhill through flower meadows to Semchubara village and from here through beautiful forests and into the open valley. After passing a chorten and Khewa Lhakhang, the trail ends at the local community school.
Drive to Punakha (1350m)
On the way to Punakha stop to make the short hike (25 mins) to visit Chime Lhakhang, temple of the “Divine Madman” built in 1499. Continue the drive to Punakha (total drive 71kms) to visit Punakha Dzong, an ancient capital of Bhutan, spanning the Mo Chu and Pho Chu rivers and you can cross the suspension bridge above the dzong. This is also the winter capital for the Central Monk Body and Je Khenpo (chief abbot).
Also make a short stop at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, dramatically located on the spur of a hill at the confluence of the Tsang Chu and Dang Chu rivers. This is under re-construction, only one building is completed, and you can see the traditional construction process, although cannot enter the building site.
Sightseeing and hiking around Punakha
In the north of the Punakha valley take a short hike (50 minutes) to see the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, a temple built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the ever-changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha valley with commanding views across the Mo Chu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond. Later walk back to the road point and drive towards Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang (temple). The magnificent structure is perched on a ridge amid pine trees and overlooking valleys of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang. The temple complex also houses a permanent higher learning and meditation centre for nuns where, apart from religious study, it provides training in life skills such as tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thangka painting.
Drive to Haa Valley (2740m) via Thimphu.
Driving to the Haa Valley via Dochula Pass (114km) stop to visit to Semtokha Dzong. Strategically built on a projecting ridge with deep gullies, the Simtokha Dzong commands views across the entire Thimphu Valley. From the junction where one branch of the road diverts to Paro, continue to Haa through deep valleys and gorges covered by mixed forest.
Haa to Paro (2200m) via Chela Pass
Wangchuck Dzong dates back to 1915. Also visit Lhakhang Karpo (white temple) and Lhakhang Nakpo (Black temple). The drive to Paro over the Chela la pass (3899m) is 65kms. From the pass there are great views of the Himalayan Ranges and the valley beyond.
On arrival in Paro head out to visit Ta Dzong, (the National Museum) built in the 17th century as a watch tower for the Paro Dzong. Below the museum is the Rinpung Dzong, built in 17th century to defend the valley against Tibetan invaders. The Dzong is now used as an administration centre and school for monks. In the evening stroll around Paro town.
Hike to Taktsang (3180m) – visit Kyichu Lhakhang
From nearby Ramthangkha hike up to Taktsang monastery. About 2 hours up there is a cafeteria and rest point with stunning views of the monastery where Guru Padmasambhava landed on the back of a tigress in the 8th century. It is then another 1.5-2 hours to Tiger’s Nest where you can visit the 13 main temples.
In the afternoon, once you have hiked back to the road, your driver will pick you up to visit one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. Kyichu Lhakhang, built in 7th century, is said to be one of the 13 great geomantic temples ordered built by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. It holds down the left foot of an ogress whose body is so large that it covers Bhutan and most of central Tibet. On the way back to town stop to visit a typical Bhutanese farmhouse and explore the lifestyle of a Bhutanese farmer.
Sightseeing – Drakarpo monastery, Jamjalo monastery
A short drive from Paro set out to hike one hour to Drakarpo Monastery. Located on a high cliff you approach by walking clockwise around the cliff. Here there is also a meditation cave, believed to have been used by a previous incarnation of Namkhai Ningpo. From here you can see almost the whole of Paro valley.
Drakarpo’s main altar room has a great legend; it is said that here Guru Rinpoche broke the rock and made a cave for his meditation in the mid-8th century.
Jamjalo monastery is also located on a cliff side and the climb up towards the monastery is a bit steep. The monastery resembles a mini–Tiger’s Nest! The main figures in the temple are a statue of the Buddha of long life, Tara and Drukpa Kinley. You will also see a rock kept in the shrine, which is shaped like a shoe; it is believed that after Drukpa Kinley (the divine madman) meditated here he left one of his shoes in the temple and this is an important treasure.
You will be transferred to the airport where your guide will assist with formalities and bid you farewell.